The standard Lego brick has six dots, arranged in two columns of three—the exact same configuration of braille lettering.
It’s one of those coincidences that feels almost fated in retrospect. Which is why in a pro bono project for the Dorina Nowill Foundation—a nonprofit that offers free services to families with vision impairment—the marketing firm Lew'Lara\TBWA came up with an ingenious mashup: Braille Bricks.
Recently featured on Design Taxi, Braille Bricks are quite literally Lego bricks that have had some of their studs shaved off, so that they can depict various letters of the alphabet.
Shaving those nubs leaves a little hole, though. So a supplier had to fill the hole—presumably with a melted plastic—then paint over it with a Pantone-matched nontoxic ink.
The process sounds labor-intensive—and it was—but to create 300 sets that were circulated around schools, the solution was cheaper than creating injection molds for each Braille Brick letter, which would have had a startup cost of thousands of dollars per letter.
As an educational tool, Braille Bricks seem like a fairly obvious, good way to teach the youngest children how to spell, allowing them to rearrange letters on a board with relative ease. In fact, a similar system called Tack-Tiles already exists on the market, but it costs hundreds of dollars for a small set.
And because Braille Bricks are literally Lego, they aren’t nearly as ostracizing as braille displays or other teaching tools, the creators say.
"During our experiments we present these pieces to a group of blind and sighted kids, and they start to play together," says Ricardo Barros, a Lew'Lara\TBWA account supervisor who worked on the project. "Blind kids started to teach sighted kids how braille works, and how they can use it to express their thoughts."
With hundreds of kids testing Braille Bricks so far, the team would like to bring the product to a larger audience. They’ve listed Braille Bricks under a Creative Commons license for anyone to reproduce or repurpose (technically, Lego's last core patent expired in 1989—the company has just been strategic enough to stay in the game). In the meantime, the Braille Bricks team hopes to grab the attention of a partner who could manufacture bricks on the cheap. "Our idea is to find a global toy company with the potential to produce it in a global scale to help blind kids around the world," Barros says.
The brick’s in your court, Lego.
All Images: via Braille Bricks